Now we know which are the 100 best romantic movies of all time. But which are funny and which are heartbreaking? Which depict a dignified romance and which are saucy tales of lust? Which are strictly arthouse and which are simply cheesy? We’ve applied 19 handy labels to the 100 films in our list. Here you’ll find all the films we think deserve the label ‘funny’.
Got something to add? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
RECOMMENDED: The 100 best romantic movies
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Diane Keaton, Woody Allen
Best quote: 'Don’t knock masturbation. It’s sex with someone I love.'
Defining moment: Call the lobster squad! Dinner has escaped.
Irrational, crazy and absurd. ‘Annie Hall’ gives us love in its all its messy glory. It’s the anatomy of break-up. ‘Where did it all go wrong?’ asks Woody Allen’s neurotic comedian Alvy Singer after his split from scatterbrain singer Annie (Diane Keaton, enjoying a killer fashion moment in boyish slacks and a fedora).
Allen has said that ‘Annie Hall’ was his first film to go ‘deeper’. And at its heart is the sad message that finding your soulmate doesn’t guarantee a happy ending. Or, as an old woman tells Alvy: ‘Love fades.’ But for all that, ‘Annie Hall’ is hands down the most hilarious film ever made about love, hysterically funny and packed with gags. CCRead more
Director: Hal Ashby
Cast: Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort
Best quote: 'Oh, Harold, that's wonderful. Go and love some more.'
Defining moment: In a field of daisies overlooking a vast military cemetery, Maude explains her philosophy of life.
Age shall not wither them
The hippy era was full of movies that attempted to confront square society, to shock viewers into some undefined form of action. How many of them are still effective today? But ‘Harold and Maude’, the gentle flipside of the revolutionary dream, is every bit as charming, affecting and surprising as it must have been on its first release.
Partly this is because none of its themes have gone out of date: we still live in a world of empty privilege and rigid hierarchy, petty authority and relentless conformism. So the idea of a teenage boy (Cort) shacking up with a batty old woman (Gordon) is still a challenge to social norms. Best of all, ‘Harold and Maude’ is also still devastatingly romantic: a story of soulmates, in the most literal sense. THRead more
Director: Billy Wilder
Cast: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine
Best quote: 'That's the way it crumbles... cookie-wise.'
Defining moment: C.C. Baxter decides to take the advice of his doctor and become a mensch.
When life gives you Lemmon...
Billy Wilder’s ‘The Apartment’ takes the long and winding route to true romance. The premise is anything but romantic: CC Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a Manhattan office drone whose way to the heart of his bosses – and promotion – is to loan out his bachelor pad to married men having affairs or one-night-stands. Baxter’s neighbours are increasingly fed up with his apparent philandering, but the sad reality is that the four walls of his apartment witness no romance at all when it comes to their actual tenant.
When he starts a flirtation with Fran (Shirley MacLaine), a beautiful lift attendant who works in his faceless modern office block, little does Baxter know that she is actually caught up in an unhappy affair with his boss (Fred MacMurray). Wilder is unafraid to go down some dark alleys in ‘The Apartment’: there’s a strong streak of cynicism relating to modern office politics and even a suicide attempt. But that only makes the final resolution all the more rewarding and hard-won. DCRead more
Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Cast: Kim Hunter, David Niven, Roger Livesey
Best quote: 'Nothing is stronger than the law in the Universe, but on Earth nothing is stronger than love.'
Defining moment: The beginning. David Niven is a British wartime pilot, crashing down to earth; Kim Hunter is an American radio operator, falling in love with his voice in his final seconds.
All’s fair in love and war
Trust Powell and Pressburger to find a way of exploring love that is teasing, heartfelt and totally imaginative – while also being timely for an audience recovering from six years of war, separation and strain. When Niven’s pilot plunges to the ground, we enter two worlds: one of them celestial (in monochrome) and one of them real (in colour), although the distinction is in fact much more playful.
After narrowly cheating death (or did he?), will Niven remain on Earth with his new love, Hunter? Or must he succumb to fate? In the end, Powell and Pressburger’s idea is age-old and simple: love conquers all. But they explain this with the bonkers-brilliant concept of putting this idea on trial in no less than a heavenly court. The climax couldn’t be more stirring. DCRead more
Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet
Best quote: 'I've never felt that before. I'm just exactly where I want to be.'
Defining moment: That final conversation in the hallway, in which the repetition of the simple word ‘okay’ means so much more than just ‘I love you’.
Brainwashing for beginners
You might see this extraordinary film, a joint career peak for Michel Gondry, writer Charlie Kaufman and its improbably but perfectly matched leads, described in generic DVD catalogues as a romantic comedy. It’s a term that seems wholly unequal to its dizzying conceptual acrobatics, not to mention the profound sadness in its absurdist excavation of post-romantic trauma.
But a rich, tragedy-tinged comedy it is: Kaufman has essentially given a scruffy sci-fi makeover to a ‘Philadelphia Story’-style farce of second chances and destiny denied, without letting the film’s beating screwball heart get overly chilled by its wintry New York cool. No longer just the hipster’s choice, it’s become the go-to love story for an entire generation of, to paraphrase Kate Winslet’s Clementine, fucked-up girls – and guys – looking for their own peace of mind. GLRead more
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson
Best quote: 'I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine.'
Defining moment: When Barry tells Lena that he wants to smash her face with a sledgehammer – in the most charming way imaginable…
Love is strange
Remember that brief, golden period in the early 2000s when you could openly admit to your friends and family that you were looking forward to the new Adam Sandler movie? A time before ‘Grown Ups 2’ and ‘Blended’, when this still-promising comedy talent actually took risks with his career? It’s impossible to imagine the Sandler of today agreeing to ‘Punch-Drunk Love’ – then again, it’s pretty hard to imagine that he knew what he was getting himself into.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s film is without doubt the oddest romcom of all time, suspended in a hinterland between old-fashioned screwball antics, quirky indie romance and outright arthouse obliqueness. The tone is impossible to pin down, veering from rage to romance to ice-cold stillness. But somehow it works: the glassy LA photography is eye-ravishingly cool, the performances are just this side of too-far-out, and the love affair between Sandler and Emily Watson is simply, truly perfect. THRead more
Director: Andrew Stanton
Cast: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin
Best quote: 'Beep, beep, beep…'
Defining moment: When WALL-E falls in love with Eve, inspired by watching ‘Hello, Dolly!’
Leaves a metallic taste in the mouth
Can a near-silent portrait of a love between two robots, WALL-E and Eve, really be that romantic? Well, Pixar found a way with this daring story of a lonely robot on Earth in 2700, a time when the planet has been abandoned by life and WALL-E has only piles of junk and a copy of Gene Kelly’s ‘Hello, Dolly!’ for company. WALL-E is a creaky, awkward creature and when the more sleek, iPod-like Eve turns up in his life, he naturally falls head over heels for her.
The film’s great achievement (if we forget its more boisterous and less successful second half) is that its silence and calm draw us in and allows us to appreciate small gestures and the little things in life. It’s the most touching robot-on-robot relationship since the bickering bromance between C3PO and R2D2 in ‘Star Wars’. DCRead more
Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Cast: Wendy Hillier, Roger Livesey
Best quote: 'Not poor, they just haven't got money.'
Defining moment: Joan tries to cross to the island and gets caught in a storm near a whirlpool.
The high road to romance
And she does know exactly where she’s going. She is Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller), a thoroughly modern independent woman in 1940s wartime London. Joan has bagged a big catch and is engaged to an industrial magnate twice her age. The wedding is set to take place on his private island in the Hebrides and nothing is going to stop her; nothing except the Scottish weather and perhaps a dashing naval officer (Roger Livesey), with whom Joan becomes stranded on the Isle of Mull during a storm.
‘I Know Where I’m Going!’ beautifully combines romance and comedy. And this is a romantic movie with friends in high places. Here’s Martin Scorsese: ‘I reached the point of thinking there were no more masterpieces to discover, until I saw “I Know Where I’m Going!”.’ CCRead more
Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette
Best quote: 'And all I could think was, you're so cool!'
Defining moment: To free his hooker wife from bondage, hero Clarence guns down her dreadful, dreadlocked pimp.
We can’t help imagining that, when he came to write the script for ‘True Romance’, a before-he-was-famous Quentin Tarantino just jotted down his geekiest life goals and added dialogue. So the story follows a loveless comic-store clerk (Christian Slater) whose boss hires him the world’s foxiest and least experienced hooker (Patricia Arquette) for his birthday. She of course falls madly in love with him, he kills her pimp and they hit the road, bound for Hollywood and a major coke deal.
So yes, ‘True Romance’ is pretty shallow – but it’s also beautifully written, directed and acted, and simply impossible to dislike. The supporting cast is a dream – Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman and James Gandolfini. But it’s Slater and Arquette who keep the film anchored, offering one of the most puppyishly lovable depictions of first love in modern cinema. THRead more
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway, Meryl Streep
Best quote: 'You look so beautiful I can hardly keep my eyes on the meter.'
Defining moment: The stately black-and-white shots of the city cut to Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’.
A hell of a town
There’s so much in ‘Manhattan’ that’s familiar from Woody Allen’s other films, not least Woody himself playing a writer, Isaac, with endless hang-ups and a variety of women in his life. Here, those women are his 17-year-old girlfriend, Tracy (Hemingway); another love interest, Mary (Keaton); and his ex-wife, Jill (Streep).
For Woody, romance is fluid, complicated and alive. Yet by far the biggest romance in ‘Manhattan’ is Woody’s affair with the city itself. New York is often the backdrop for Woody’s films, but here a sense of place is more important than ever. There are those famous montages of the Manhattan skyline, lent a rare beauty by Gordon Willis’ loving black-and-white photography, and at the film’s climax we see Isaac running through the streets that have shaped him – and Woody Allen – and continue to do so. DCRead more
Director: Jean Vigo
Cast: Dita Parlo, Jean Dasté, Michel Simon
Best quote: 'Paris, Paris! Oh, infamous, marvellous city!'
Defining moment: Jean leaps into the river and sees a vision of Juliette dancing in the water.
Life is but a dream
The French are famed as a romantic nation, but for those of us raised in a more reserved culture, their occasional tendency towards sweaty-crotched Gitane-smoke-in-the-face Gainsbourg-isms can seem a little, well, aggressive. Not so ‘L’Atalante’: this is a love story with the lightest touch, managing to be spiritual, sensual, serious and strange all at the same time.
Its 29-year-old director famously died before his debut feature was completed, but there’s more in this one film than most directors manage in a lifetime: more meaning, more emotion, more intensity. Perhaps it’s the out-of-the-past setting – a narrowboat plying the canals of rural France – or the weirdly disconnected central couple, or even the presence of Simon’s crusty, irascible Pere Jules. But something in Vigo’s film is not quite of this earth, and to watch it is the closest we may ever come to experiencing someone else’s dreams. THRead more
Directors: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
Cast: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer
Best quote: 'You don't talk much. I like you!'
Defining moment: It’s all about the opening ten minutes, as we follow Carl and Ellie from childhood, through years of happy marriage ‘til death does them part.
The story of us
It’s remarkable that ‘Up’ has managed to sneak into the all-time top 25 romantic movies on the strength of a single 10-minute sequence, but it’s also testament to the extraordinary power this Pixar classic possesses.
It could’ve been so cutesy, so saccharine: a geeky kid with coke-bottle glasses dreams of being an explorer. The girl down the street wants the same thing. They grow up, fall in love, years pass, and we see the highs and lows of their life together: marriage, family, work, sickness, eventually death – a tapestry of honest emotion and meaning (and this, lest we forget, is a kids’ movie). The rest of ‘Up’ is ‘only’ hilarious and smart – but that opening is romance itself. THRead more
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Best quote: 'Isn't everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?'
Defining moment: It happens off-screen – Linklater purposely doesn’t show us the did-they-or-didn’t-they sexual encounter.
This means something to me
Proof that you don’t need a plot to fall in love, ‘Before Sunrise’ sees strangers on a train Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delphy) meet-cute, disembark in Vienna, and dance a verbal tango into the night as the deadline of Jesse’s flight home looms.
You’d say that Delphy and Hawke have never been better were it not for the 2004 sequel ‘Before Sunset’, which shows us what happens next, and the 2013 instalment ‘Before Midnight’, which revisits the pair as middle age encroaches. A classy antidote to the notion that passion is purely physical, it’s the sporadically articulate philosophising and spiky gender-focused sparring that glues these two chatterboxes together. CBRead more
Director: Rob Reiner
Cast: Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby
Best quote: 'When you realise you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.'
Defining moment: Too many to mention, but the orgasm scene in the diner has become something of a classic.
Friends with hissy fits
In 2012, the world lost a legend. True, Nora Ephron’s work may have declined over the years, but her screenplay for ‘When Harry Met Sally...’ remains a masterpiece of romcom construction. Embracing, upending and inventing clichés left and right, crammed with one-liners, goofy asides and enough valid life lessons to rival the scriptures, it’s one of the few movie scripts that works just as well on the page as it does on the screen.
And pretty much everything else about the film is perfect, too, from Crystal and Ryan’s just-this-side-of-smug central couple to Fisher and Kirby as the petri-dish of marital dysfunction, from Harry Connick Jr’s just-the-other-side-of-smug crooning to the gorgeous photography of New York through the changing seasons. Bliss. THRead more
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Best quote: 'You can never replace anyone because everyone is made up of such beautiful specific details.'
Defining moment: Celine’s zero hour Nina Simone impression.
First world problems
These days, director Richard Linklater is known as a master of the long game, his 12-years-in-the-making ‘Boyhood’ (2014) reaping acclaim from all quarters. But the first taste of Linklater’s easygoing maturity came a decade earlier with this sequel to ‘Before Sunrise’, one that deepened college-age lusts into regret, nostalgia and a hopeful rebirth.
Again, we’re strolling with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy), this time through a pink-hued Paris during the magic hour. Nine years later, they pick up their banter with ease, and even though life’s choices have drawn them in separate directions, the movie throbs with potential for romance. By the time we’re back in Céline’s apartment – Nina Simone cooing on the stereo – the outcome is all but inevitable. JRRead more
Director: John Huston
Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart
Best quote: 'What a time we had, Rosie. What a time we had.'
Defining moment: After surviving the rapids, one of the great ‘celebratory hug gets serious’ moments in cinema.
Messing about on the river
We tend to think of movies about old folks shacking up as being a modern phenomenon, as producers pursue the newfangled ‘grey pound’. But it’s really nothing new: in fact, when the original script for ‘The African Queen’ was presented to the censors, the busybodies were shocked at the idea of two unmarried persons enjoying a late-in-life romance in the sweaty confines of a rickety old tramp steamer.
‘The African Queen’ is one of the great films about delayed self-discovery: brittle spinster Hepburn’s realisation of her love for crusty, good-hearted layabout Bogart isn’t just believable, it feels completely necessary. Wise, warm, witty, and with just the hint of a sly, subversive twinkle in its eye, ‘The African Queen’ is old-school Hollywood at its absolute finest. THRead more
Director: Blake Edwards
Cast: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard
Best quote: 'Oh, golly gee damn!'
Defining moment: Holly Golightly sings ‘Moon River’ at the windows of her NYC apartment.
The original pretty woman
It’s the role that Audrey Hepburn will forever be remembered for: the beautiful, bolshy city girl with a brittle edge in this handsome, well-dressed adaptation of Truman Capote’s novella. Of course, Edwards’ film deftly sidestepped the sadder, seedier aspects of Holly Golightly’s life in the book – working as a high-society escort in early 1960s Manhattan. Instead, the film prefers to indulge the on-off, will-they-won’t-they aspect of her relationship with Paul (Peppard), her dapper neighbour.
To be frank, the spark between Hepburn and Peppard is lacking, and there’s little about ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ that truly sets the heart ablaze. What’s fun, though, is the giddiness of Holly’s life and her dashes about town with Paul (to a strip club, a stuffy library and, of course, the famous jewellery store). What the film most bequeaths us is the romantic ideal of the witty, couture-clad, urbane, dark-haired beauty: the Hepburn that launched a thousand Audreys. DCRead more
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Cast: Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart
Best quote: 'People seldom go to the trouble of scratching the surface of things to find the inner truth.'
Defining moment: Kralik (Stewart) brags to his hated colleague Miss Novak (Sullavan) about his upcoming date with ‘the most wonderful girl in the world’ – unaware that they are one and the same.
Over the counter
You can’t blame a great film for the indignities it spawned. ‘The Shop Around the Corner’ was the inspiration behind both ‘Are You Being Served?’ and gooey romcom ‘You’ve Got Mail’, but that doesn’t dim the brilliance of Lubitsch’s original.
We tend to think of pre-war Hollywood as being a fairly insular, conservative sort of place. But here’s a mainstream comedy set in Hungary (already an Axis collaborator by the time the film was shot), pushing the idea that those benighted Europeans – a world away from middle America – had ordinary lives, loves and values of their own. The performances are perfect, the hate-to-love plotline painstakingly constructed, and the dialogue sparkles like diamonds. THRead more
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray
Best quote: 'It's possible I may wet the bed, by the way.'
Defining moment: Sam and Suzy kiss an awkward kiss on the beach.
Romance isn't the first thing you expect from a Wes Anderson film, but in this delightful 1960s-set tale, the American auteur employs all his usual tricks – hip soundtrack, arch dialogue, super-careful production design – in the service of a story about the chaos and madness of young love.
Sam and Suzy are 12-year-olds on the run. Suzy is precocious and independent; Sam is nerdy and serious. They don't get very far, but a mile's a long way when you're 12, and danger is never far away. What's lovely is how seriously Anderson takes Sam and Suzy's adventure, while also laying on the humour and the irony. By the time the pair steal a smooch on a deserted beach, we're totally smitten. DCRead more
Director: Howard Hawks
Cast: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn
Best quote: 'When a man is wrestling a leopard in the middle of a pond, he's in no position to run.'
Defining moment: The prison scene: enter Swingin’ Door Susie and Jerry the Nipper.
Romance, red in tooth and claw
Like its bumbling protagonist, Hawks’ archetypal screwball classic went from disaster to darling. The tale of a paleontologist (Grant), a society dame (Hepburn), a snappy terrier and a stray Brazilian leopard, ‘Bringing Up Baby’ ran seriously over budget and over schedule thanks to animal misbehaviour coupled with Grant and Hepburn’s inability to stop making each other laugh during takes.
It flopped disastrously on first release: Hawks’ contract with producers RKO was cut short and Hepburn was labeled ‘box office poison’ by a top exec. Two decades later, following a series of successful TV showings, the film was rightly recognised as the pinnacle of the screwball art: no film was ever so fast, so witty and so gorgeously irrational. THRead more
Director: Andrew Haigh
Cast: Chris New, Tom Cullen
Best quote: 'I couldn't be more proud of you than if you were the first man on the moon.'
Defining moment: When Glen interviews Russell on tape for an art project the morning after the night before.
Boy meets boy
This British film, shot on a shoestring, captures in a lively and fresh style the first throes of attraction, passion and maybe even love between two men, Glen (New) and Russell (Cullen), who meet one night in a bar and spend a couple of days and nights together. They talk, they have sex, they size each other up. Glen is open and chatty, while Russell is more guarded and defensive.
Haigh’s film is marked by an immediacy and a sense of tentative exploration that’s rare in depictions of couplings, and by a keen awareness that we project one image on the world and hold another back for ourselves. Not a great deal happens in terms of big events, but the film’s honesty and realism mean that it’s a little film with a lot to say. DCRead more
Director: Leo McCarey
Cast: Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Richard Denning
Best quote: 'There must be something between us, even if it's only an ocean.'
Defining moment: The unbearable tension in the final reel. We know something Cary Grant is about to find out.
Ship to shore
A playboy (Cary Grant) and a chanteuse (Deborah Kerr) fall in love on a transatlantic liner. Both are already attached but when they dock at New York, they agree to meet at the Empire State Building in six months’ time. Such is the set-up for one of Hollywood’s most imperishable romances, which Leo McCarey first directed in 1939 as ‘Love Affair’ (starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne) and remade in 1957 as ‘An Affair to Remember’.
There’s another version, 1994’s ‘Love Affair’ – a tepid showcase for Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. But as any fan of ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ will tell you, the 1957 film is the most enduring, allowing Grant to play simmering passion beneath a debonair exterior, while Kerr suggests fervent yearning behind that reserved front. Hokey? Yes. Manipulative? Certainly. But we defy you not to blub like Meg Ryan. TJRead more
Director: Frank Capra
Cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed
Best quote: 'Why don't you kiss her instead of talking her to death?'
Defining moment: A bell rings in Bedford Falls – an angel has earned his wings.
No man is an island
Stewart put in a career-defining performance in this inverted Christmas Carol fable. He plays good-hearted but despairing small town family man George Bailey, who, in the ultimate Capra premise, is brought back from the brink by an angel showing him what would have happened if he'd never been born.
The first film Capra made after returning from World War II, the picture celebrates what Ken Loach's 2013 documentary identifies as ‘The Spirit of '45’ – communities doing the right thing for working families instead of relentlessly pursuing cold hard shiny profit. Perhaps it's indicative of how pie-in-the-sky these simple values seem to contemporary society that we're classing ‘It's a Wonderful Life’ as a romance. CBRead more
Director: Lukas Moodyson
Cast: Rebecca Liljeberg, Alexandra Dahlström, Erica Carlson
Best quote: 'We must be out of our damn minds. But we are so fucking cool.'
Defining moment: An impulsive snog in the back of a car as Foreigner’s ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’ cranks up on the soundtrack.
I know you can show me
The original Swedish title of Moodyson’s gem-like début is actually ‘Fucking Amal’, a declaration of sheer outrage at being teenage and ready for anything in a provincial backwater where nothing ever happens. Liljeberg’s mousy misfit harbouring unrequited feelings is almost a standard-issue protagonist in these circumstances, but Moodyson shows his insight by depicting blonde bombshell Dahlström, the object of her affections, as a time-bomb of hormonal and existential frustration herself – so creating tantalising romantic possibilities between them.
Spot-on in its registering of bitter class realities and affectionate regard for the sheer uselessness of the adolescent male, this is a funny, true and eventually stirring rallying call for anyone who’s ever thought or felt different. And it even makes Foreigner sound heart-pumpingly fab. TJRead more
Director: George Cukor
Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart
Best quote: 'The course of true love gathers no moss.'
Defining moment: Brittle ice-queen Tracy (Hepburn) has her eyes and her heart opened following a few choice words from her disappointed Dad.
A little taste of heaven
Look up ‘fizzy’ in a film dictionary and you’ll find a shot of Katharine Hepburn as Tracy Lord (no relation to the porn star), the snappy, snippy, self-regarding heroine of Cukor’s magnificent country house comedy.
Taking his cues from Shakespeare (it could comfortably have been retitled ‘Much Ado About a Midsummer Night’s Shrew-Taming’), playwright Philip Barry weaves a tangled web of delicious misunderstandings and deliberate misdemeanours as three mismatched men – sarky but self-improved ex-husband Grant, youthfully exuberant writer Stewart and dull, well-meaning fiancé John Howard – take it in turns to tilt at Hepburn’s hard-nosed heiress. And if there’s a sneaking suspicion at the end that she picked the wrong one – ‘Four Weddings’-style – that’s all part of the film’s restless, headspinning charm. THRead more
Director: Frank Capra
Cast: Claudette Colbert, Clark Gable
Best quote: 'I don't know very much about him, except that I love him.'
Defining moment: The pre-censor motel room scene, in which the two unmarried travelling companions use a sheet slung over a washing line to protect their dignity.
Greyhounds of love
When was the romcom born? Ask the experts and plenty will answer that it all began with Frank Capra’s 1934 screwball comedy. Look closely and you’ll see ingredients that have been tossed together ever since: a couple who can’t stand the sight of each other, shotgun-speed bickering and the sudden slap-the-forehead realisation that they are crazy about each other. Claudette Colbert plays a spoilt society heiress who runs away from home to marry a fortune hunter only to fall in love with a rascally newspaper reporter (Clark Gable) en route.
After shooting, Colbert said to a friend: ‘I just finished the worst picture in the world.’ The world thought differently. A sleeper hit (Hitler and Stalin were both fans), ‘It Happened One Night’ became the first film to sweep the board at the Oscars – winning all five major awards. Eighty years later, it’s still irresistible. CCRead more
Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Joseph Gordon Levitt, Zooey Deschanel
Best quote: 'This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know upfront, this is not a love story.'
Defining moment: A post-coital Tom struts to work to Hall & Oates’s number ‘You Make My Dreams’.
A post-modern post-mortem of love – or something like it – ‘(500) Days Of Summer’ introduces us to Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel), a lady since invoked in countless discussions of that stock indie romcom character, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
A trainee architect working as a greetings card writer, Tom falls hard for the kooky charms of his boss’s new secretary, despite the advice of friends who warn him off and Summer herself, who tells him she doesn’t believe in love. Against all the odds, the couple bond over a shared affection for little-known balladeers The Smiths – and the rest is non-linear narrative history. CBRead more
Director: Steven Shainberg
Cast: Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Spader
Best quote: 'Who's to say that love needs to be soft and gentle?'
Defining moment: Lee reads back a mistyped letter and gets spanked for the first time.
Taking down the particulars
Before there was ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’, there was E Edward Grey (James Spader), a boss who exercises a penchant for strict discipline on new hire Lee (Maggie Gyllenhaal). In contrast to ‘Fifty Shades…’, which metastasised out of ‘Twilight’ fan fiction, the literary origins of ‘Secretary’ are more respectable: a short story by Mary Gaitskill, whose writings about BDSM go a bit deeper than the recent bonkbusters.
The skewed romance at the heart of ‘Secretary’ is beautifully played; the characters never come off as dabblers trying to spice things up a bit with fluffy-cuffed role-play, but as submissive and dominant to the core of their sexual identities. CBRead more
Director: Mike Nichols
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross
Best quote: 'Would you like me to seduce you?'
Defining moment: Dustin Hoffman, Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, a red Alfa Romeo Spider and the Southern California highway system.
We’d like to help you learn to help yourself
How romantic is ‘The Graduate’, really? Are we talking about the affair between Benjamin Braddock (Hoffman) and Mrs Robinson (Bancroft), in which he’s driven by adolescent lust and gnawing boredom, and she by a desperate desire to revisit her youth, to feel something, anything for a change? Or do we mean the engagement between Benjamin and Mrs Robinson’s daughter Elaine (Ross), in which both characters appear to be marching through some sort of societally mandated courtship routine, without ever really meeting in the middle?
And yet, despite the cynicism and the ironic distance, despite that frankly terrifying closing shot of Ben and Elaine on the bus, miles distant, there’s still something bracing and heartfelt about ‘The Graduate’. Perhaps in showing us all this tragic emptiness, Nichols is encouraging us to confront it. THRead more
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor
Best quote: 'Come what may, I will love you until my dying day.'
Defining moment: David Bowie, Elton John, The Beatles and more are pressed into service in one mega-mixed Elephant Love Medley.
Nothing left toulouse
Baz Luhrmann takes the lavish staging of Bollywood, mashes up elements of the Greek myth of Orpheus together with Giuseppe Verdi's opera La Traviata, and throws it all into a kaleidoscopic blender along with some of the catchiest Western pop songs of the 20th century.
As with Luhrmann's inspirations, events are entirely passion-powered, as Ewan McGregor's ‘oh-so-talented, charmingly bohemian, tragically impoverished’ writer Christian conceives an amour fou for Nicole Kidman's courtesan Satine, serenading her with lines like ‘the greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return’. Of course, given the consumptive Satine is carrying more tuberculosis bacteria than your average badger colony, the greatest thing she's likely to have passed on to poor old Christian is a highly infectious lethal disease. CBRead more
Directors: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly
Cast: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen
Best quote: 'Here's one thing I learned from the movies!'
Defining moment: When Kathy (Reynolds) jumps out of a cake in front of Don (Kelly) at a party.
The story of the transition from silent movies to the 'talkies' has created a sub-genre all of its own, including movies from 'Sunset Blvd' (1950) to 'The Artist' (2011). Here, it's a light-hearted affair set in the late 1920s as silent star Don Lockwood (Kelly) bumps into Kathy Selden (Reynolds), a chorus girl, when he leaps into her car and she pretends to be a serious actress.
It's a classic case of chilly antagonism thawing into true love as Don and Kathy finally fall for each other and become colleagues when his studio wants to make a talking picture and she has to step in to replace the unappealing voice of movie star Lina Lamont (Hagen). But more famous than any romance, surely, is the opening-credits song-and-dance sequence of Kelly and co performing the title tune? DCRead more
Director: David O Russell
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence
Best quote: 'I love you. I knew it from the moment I saw you. I'm sorry it took me so long to catch up.'
Defining moment: Tiffany meets Pat’s dysfunctional parents.
Crazy in love
You know that moment when you meet someone for the first time and something clicks? Maybe you bond over a mutual hatred of beetroot. Or love the same film? That’s exactly what happens to Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ – except it’s anti-depressant side effects they bond over.
He’s recovering from a nasty manic episode. She’s been sleeping around since her husband died (‘I'm just the crazy slut with a dead husband!’) As romcoms go, this is awkward and messy, but motors on offbeat energy and a fast-paced wisecracking script. It’s a date movie with a beating heart, a story that believes in love. A happy pill of a film. CCRead more
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill
Best quote: 'Tomorrow the birds will sing.'
Defining moment: The formerly blind flower girl recognises the man she fell in love with by touch alone.
The eye of the beholder
The swan song for the silent era arrived several years after talkies had established themselves as dominant, and it came from a giant who insisted that the old ways were poetry enough. Charlie Chaplin was right, of course: ‘City Lights’ is a movie that’s impossible to improve upon, a gorgeous romance between a tramp and a blind flower girl that breathes the rare air of mythic fable.
Romantically speaking, the heartbreaker comes in the film’s final seconds, in which the tramp’s identity is finally revealed to his love interest, who can now see. On Chaplin’s face, we see shame intermingling with fear and, ultimately, euphoria. Cribbed by Federico Fellini and Woody Allen for similar endings, it’s the greatest close-up in movie history. JRRead more
Director: Mike Newell
Cast: Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell
Best quote: 'In the words of David Cassidy, when he was still with The Partridge Family, I think I love you.'
Defining moment: When Grant’s Charles makes a stuttering declaration of love to MacDowell’s Carrie on the sunny South Bank.
This is mumblecore
It was the little film that could, an infectiously charming low-budget British romcom that crushed the box office, taking £150 million worldwide and cementing the reputation of Brits in the minds of Americans as quirky and eccentric – if a little sweary.
Writer and romcom supremo Richard Curtis wasn’t keen on casting Hugh Grant as his alter ego Charles at first. The seventy-second actor to audition, Curtis thought Grant too good-looking to play the hopeless Englishman and serial monogamist. But it worked, and he went on to cast the actor in ‘Notting Hill’ and ‘Love, Actually’.
And thank heavens that Curtis managed to fend off American financial backers who hated the film’s title and suggested changing it to ‘True Love and Near Misses’, ‘Loitering in Sacred Places’ or ‘Rolling in the Aisles’. CCRead more
Director: George Cukor
Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Doris Nolan
Best quote: 'Compared to the life I lead, the last man in a chain gang thoroughly enjoys himself.'
Defining moment: Grant and Hepburn perform somersaults to announce their anti-establishment credentials.
Pack up your troubles
If you love ‘The Philadelphia Story’ then do catch Hepburn in this previous adaptation of a Philip Barry play as an independent-minded young woman stymied by her conservative family. She senses a kindred spirit in youthful Grant’s Johnny Case, who plans to leave his self-made career behind and travel the big, wide world. The complication is that he’s engaged to her alluring sister Nolan.
Yes, the theatrical origins are only too obvious, but glittering dialogue and sparkling star turns pave the way to a surprisingly affecting ending. Grant is unusually goofy, skillfully masking his character’s contradictions, while Hepburn’s trademark display of determined intelligence remains the key to a film that thrives on the notion of liberating elopement. TJRead more
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Cast: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz
Best quote: 'It’s better to help people than garden gnomes.'
Defining moment: Amélie’s heart pounds as she spots her true love or the first time.
Le femme excentrique
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s whimsical romance arrived out of nowhere in 2001, a surprise international hit that made an overnight star of Audrey Tautou. She plays the elfin Montmartre waitress with an overactive imagination, continually conspiring to play cupid and meddling in other people’s lives. But when Amélie falls in love she can’t bring herself to confront the handsome object of her affections — the risk of making something real is too much for her to handle.
Instead, she lurks in the background, their relationship mediated by whatever cultural detritus she can use to keep a comfortable distance. But anyone who’s heard the rollicking accordion jam that closes Yann Tiersen’s soundtrack knows what it feels like when a little courage goes a long way. Almost impossible to resist. DERead more
Directors: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Cast: Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson
Best quote: 'I love you.' With those three little words, Belle breaks the spell.
Defining moment: Belle teaches the beast to dance.
No, not Cocteau’s 1946 masterpiece (you’ll find that at number 17). This is Disney’s magical cartoon, made in 1991 but harking back to the studio’s glory days. Unlike the golden oldies, however, this fairy tale features a plucky heroine, Belle, who braves slathering wolves to rescue her dad from the Beast’s terrifying gothic castle.
In fact, the Beast is a young prince turned into a monster for his cruelty by the curse of an enchantress. Only three little words can break the spell. It’s impossible not to be swept along by the gorgeous Broadway-style song and dance numbers and by what one philosopher called the fairy tale’s ‘great message’ – ‘that a thing must be loved before it is lovable’. CCRead more
Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Ellen Page, Michael Cera
Best quote: 'I still have your underwear.' 'I still have your virginity.'
Defining moment: Baby, schmaby: it’s all about Juno declaring her love for geeky Paulie Bleeker.
Que Cera, Cera
On release, first-time scriptwriter Diablo Cody’s Oscar-winning unplanned teen pregnancy comedy ‘Juno’ was all-but obscured by one debate: was it a pro-lifer tract deceptively gussied up in indie clothing?
The film’s abortion issues are still up for debate; leaving that aside for a moment, what’s left is a sweetly funny romantic comedy about relationships both teen- and middle-aged, and love of many kinds: parental, romantic and platonic. And sure, the teen-speak might bear about as much resemblance to real teenage slang as the actors in ‘Grease’ did to actual teenagers, but Ellen Page and Michael Cera’s performances remain pitch perfect. CBRead more
Director: Cameron Crowe
Cast: John Cusack, Ione Skye
Best quote: 'I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen.'
Defining moment: Come on, like you don’t know. Window. Trenchcoat. Boombox. Peter Gabriel. Iconic.
Rich and strange
Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut may be remembered for That Scene With the Ghettoblaster, but there’s so much more to it than moody John Cusack and his synth-scored adolescent angst.
For one, there’s Ione Skye as his posh-kid paramour, who may suffer from occasional dream-girl tendencies but shows enough spark to justify John’s obsession. There’s also a terrific supporting cast including Frasier’s Dad John Mahoney, Joan Cusack, Jeremy Piven and a magnificently brash and spiky Lili Taylor.
But it’s the sweet, thoughtful, zinger-studded script which explains why, for one brief moment, we actually believed that Crowe could be the next Woody Allen, only with more New Wave hair and classic rock references. Oh, what might have been… THRead more
Director: Mike Nichols
Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton
Best quote: 'You make me puke.'
Defining moment: George shoots his wife, kind of.
Love is a battlefield
Mike Nichols' acid-drenched adaptation of Edward Albee's stage play isn't everyone's idea of a great screen romance, but there's a reason we haven't called this list 100 Great Date Movies.
Yes, rarely has a Hollywood film depicted a marriage more bitter than that of George and Martha, an academic couple who wind up drunkenly airing their very dirty laundry in front of younger colleagues at a drinks party. But it's also an unusually truthful and compassionate study of the lies and defence mechanisms that keep even unhappy couples together. And casting Burton and Taylor as George and Martha – their own famously fraught marriage bleeding into the one they're acting out – was a masterstroke. GLRead more
Director: Billy Wilder
Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon
Best quote: 'Nobody’s perfect!'
Defining moment: Curtis, in disguise as a rich Brit, takes Monroe for a date on someone else’s yacht.
Love comes in spats
The romance in ‘Some Like It Hot’ is very much of the anything-goes, outsider sort. Wilder’s brilliant, high-energy transvestite comedy is a celebration of folk from the other side of the tracks dressed up as a madcap farce in which Curtis and Lemmon spend most of the film disguised as female musicians and on the run from the Chicago mob in 1929. It’s also, of course, a vehicle for Monroe’s beauty, charm and amply-platformed cleavage (seriously, check out her dresses in her two musical numbers).
Most of the fun lies in gender-bending games of mistaken identity that would make Shakespeare proud. But there’s also some real feeling here, both between Curtis and Monroe and, most bizarrely if fleetingly, between Lemmon and an ageing playboy. Delightful and giddy. DCRead more
Director: Richard Ayoade
Cast: Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige
Best quote: 'This is the moment where you leave him and come with me.'
Defining moment: A fortnight of atavistic lovemaking is turned into the Super-8 footage of memory.
15-year old Oliver Tate (Roberts) is desperate to lose his virginity to indifferent pyromaniac Jordana Bevan (Paige). He attempts to convince her with three good reasons: 1. You are fatally in love with me. 2. Best to do it before legal. 3. Bound to be disappointing, so why wait?
Writer-director Ayoade does a superb job of taking Joe Dunthorne's darkly comic debut novel and, rather than turning it into the Brit-com one might expect from somebody so integral to shows like ‘The IT Crowd’ and ‘Garth Marenghi's Dark Place’, he creates a lithe and oddly elegant deadpan romance that recalls the French New Wave at least as much as it does its other clear ancestor, the Adrian Mole books. CBRead more
Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis
Best quote: 'Help me be human.'
Defining moment: The climax. Is there anything more romantic than attempting to fuse on a genetic level with your intended?
2 become 1
Never underestimate the ability of gross-out director David Cronenberg to elbow his way onto any list, including one that ranks the most romantic movies of all time. His smart update of the 1950s sci-fi classic certainly brings the gore and Frankenstein-ish doom, but it also wins over our hearts.
Real-life couple Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis were expertly cast as a brainiac inventor and curious ace reporter. You never blink when they fall into bed together: ‘The Fly’ vibes on its actors’ obvious smarts and nuanced sense of attraction. The endgame is majestically tragic, as science and ego upend the headiest onscreen pairing since Diane Keaton and Woody Allen. JRRead more
Director: Steve Kloves
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Michelle Pfeiffer, Beau Bridges
Best quote: 'You're not going to start dreaming about me and waking up all sweaty and looking at me like I'm some sort of princess when I burp?'
Defining moment: Michelle drapes herself atop Jeff’s piano for a smoky rendition of ‘Makin’ Whoopee’.
Another season, another reason
He knows he shouldn’t. She knows she shouldn’t. But they can’t help themselves. For decades, talented but feckless Jeff Bridges has been working hotel lounges in an easy-listening piano duo with his steady-Eddie brother (and real-life sibling) Beau, but when the work dries up they take on a vocalist – Michelle Pfeiffer’s Susie Diamond, a world-weary former escort seeking the showbiz spotlight.
Suddenly, the trio’s a hit, but there’s something in the air between Jeff and Michelle, which could break the act apart if they choose to respond to it. First-time writer-director Steve Kloves matches awkward adult emotions to razor-sharp dialogue, so naturally Hollywood picked him to adapt the ‘Harry Potter’ saga (!). Still, we’ll always have the Airport Ramada… TJRead more